What Does a Freight Conductor Do?

The term “freight conductor” can refer to a variety of jobs that are all related in some way. Working in a train yard, the freight conductor may be required to assemble freight train cars, disassemble them, switch tracks, organize trains in the yard or on the tracks, and even operate the freight engine for transportation. The conductor may also be responsible for minor train repairs, and he or she will be required to inspect the trains on a regular basis before the engines and cars are used for rail transportation.

If a person wants to work as a freight conductor, they usually need a high school diploma, though no college education is usually required. However, in some parts of the world, a college course is required to be certified as a conductor. The job candidate will typically begin in lower levels of the railroad industry and work their way up through training and on-the-job experience relevant to the freight conductor position. Within a railroad company, formal apprenticeships may or may not exist, but training is available to ensure that the freight conductor can perform his job safely and effectively. Engineers who drive trains and perform other tasks may leave the position of conductor; this position usually pays the same, if not more, than a conductor position.

A freight train must be properly assembled before leaving a train yard, with all cars safely coupled. This process can take several hours or even days, depending on how long the assembled train will be. After the train has been assembled, the freight conductor must inspect it visually to ensure it is safe to transport. If any repairs are required, the conductor may make them himself if they are minor, or work with mechanics to complete them. To safely navigate the train out of the yard, the conductor will maintain constant contact with the engineer, as well as the yard operator and dispatchers.

The freight conductor may be required to guide the train out of the yard manually throwing rail switches, which is difficult work. Electronic switches can be thrown from a remote location in more modern rail yards, allowing the conductor to stay in one position and operate multiple switches throughout the yard without having to manually throw them, which can be difficult and time-consuming.